“The Quieter You Become, The More You Can Hear” – Baba Ram Dass

In today’s ultra-modern world, our mind and body are continuously engaged in a race of survival and fulfilling our material needs and desires. However, there are specific inner needs and desires that all of us seek; which simply cannot be fulfilled by this race; namely  ‘Peace and Relaxation’. This is because our mind is continuously occupied with worries about the past or future, leaving us in a constantly stressed, anxious and tense state. In such cases, when the body and mind demand peace and energy, the best solution sans medication would be Yoga, Meditation and Relaxation.

The practice of yoga, relaxation and meditation has been around for centuries, and people in the Far East have been practising these long before they became popular in other parts of the world. For instance, the Hatha Yoga practices of the Far East back to the 11th century. The Western world picked up the concept a little later, and today various studies and methods are highlighting the benefits of yoga meditation and relaxation.

Yoga and meditation are interlinked. Though each may have their own methods of practice, they both have one common purpose – to improve physical and mental wellness. 

Here, we outline the various benefits of these techniques and discuss how they not only enhance our external wellness but contribute to our inner well-being as well.

The Medical News Today has published various studies pointing to the multiple benefits of yoga and meditation like slowing the decline of cognitive functions, easing depression, helping in dealing with stress and pain, and so on.

A study reported in the journal ‘Frontiers in Human Neurosciences’ says that meditation and yoga have positive effects on the central nervous system as well as the immune system and thus may enhance the overall well-being of an individual.

Research conducted by Dr.B.Rael Cahn, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California, showed that yoga and meditation helped to improve resilience. The volunteers of a three-month yoga and meditation retreat (comprising of yoga and meditation coupled with a vegetarian diet) were analyzed before and post-retreat. The studies showed that practising yoga and meditation were associated with a reduction in anxiety and depression levels with an increase in their mindfulness.

From the scientific viewpoint, the scientists also noted an increase in the BDNF plasma levels and better CAR, all of which suggests better resilience to stress factors. The data also showed a decrease in the inflammatory processes.

Yet another series of studies have shown how yoga is gaining popularity as a recommended treatment for depression. Research findings [1] published by the Medical News daily showed how breathing–based yoga led to an improvement in depressive symptoms.

A pilot study published by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry shows how practising Sudarshan Kriya Yoga for 8 weeks improved the symptoms of depression and anxiety among patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). These patients were not responding to regular antidepressants. Depression may contain symptoms like endless sadness, feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, disinterest, and pessimistic approach, guilty feeling or feeling of being worthless, reduced appetite, weight loss and insomnia.

A person is diagnosed with MDD if he/he suffers from at least a minimum of five of the above symptoms. MDD usually occurs as a result of any trauma, illness etc. While antidepressants are usually the first line of treatment for MDD, many do not respond to the drugs. Further, antidepressants may result in many unwanted side effects.

Dr. Anup Sharma from the Department of Psychiatry at Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine has suggested Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, (that focuses on various rhythmic breathing exercises) can benefit MDD patients. The HDRS-17 score [Hamilton Depression Rating Scale for Assessment of Depression] showed a significant improvement in patients practising breathing exercises of Sudarshan Yoga.

Mindfulness meditation or Hatha Yoga is another concept of yoga and meditation that helps to improve brain function and energises a person.[2] Kimberly Luu and Peter Hall of the School of Public Health Systems, University of Waterloo have published their study, in this aspect in the journal, Mindfulness. 

Mindfulness meditation is a type of approach that concentrates and lays emphasis on the various thoughts that go on in our minds without making any evaluation or judging those thoughts. Prof. Luu explains that such forms of meditation and yoga enhance cognitive test performances and also augment energy levels. These comprise release of various endorphins, eliminating unwanted thoughts, better blood flow to the brain, and so on.

Yoga and meditation may also help to minimise the risk of dementia.[3]  

A study by the researchers of the University of California confirmed that practising yoga and meditation can help minimise the risk of mild cognitive impairment in the elderly. This is because they help to enhance verbal and visual-spatial memory in older people. 

In addition to the above benefits; practising yoga and meditation have also been reported to give relief from various pains like back pain, rheumatoid arthritis pain, and migraines. Furthermore, different yoga poses aid digestion by squeezing the internal organs through their various twisting positions that assist in the movement of food and enhance bowel function. [4] 

Yoga can also help to cure a hangover by detoxing the body and activating the thyroid gland.  It also enhances heart health by promoting blood circulation and thereby eliminating arterial plaque inside the heart muscle.

It has been proven by many globally reputed institutions like Harvard, that regular practice of meditation improves the grey matter density in the human brain (responsible for memory and learning). [5]  

If yoga and meditation are not your cup of tea, try mild relaxation techniques. These include mindfulness meditation (discussed earlier), deep breathing techniques (like pranayama, box breathing, alternate nostril breathing, deep and slow breaths), repetitive prayers, taking time off to feel one’s presence in daily activities, like feeling the air hitting on the face, enjoying the taste of food etc. and so on.

Another way is to invoke ‘relaxation response’, a technique developed in the 1970s by Harvard Medical School. The relaxation response technique is the opposite of stress response. In relaxation response, one goes into a state of profound rest that can be produced in many ways through various relaxation techniques. Regularly practising multiple relaxation techniques help to de-stress the body and mind.[6]

Following a disciplined approach towards practising yoga, meditation and relaxation help not only to de-stress the body but also calm the mind. So, give yourself a healthy dose of mental and emotional nourishment by practising a few minutes of yoga, meditation or relaxation on a day-to-day basis and you will soon notice the profound difference it makes in your life.